Minnesota National Guard troops helping rebuild Iraq

"Significant progress'' is being made toward building the infrastructure needed for recovery in south central Iraq, according to Maj. Jake Kulzer, civil military operations officer for the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division.

"Significant progress'' is being made toward building the infrastructure needed for recovery in south central Iraq, according to Maj. Jake Kulzer, civil military operations officer for the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division.

Kulzer, of Minneapolis, told reporters on Friday that National Guard troops from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa are helping with the recovery. They took over responsibility for security in the region by replacing the 48th Brigade Combat Team from Georgia in March.

Highlights since the arrival of the 34th or "Red Bull" division include the development of two reverse osmosis water treatment plants and building a new school in an Iraqi village.

The U.S. works in cooperation with the Iraqi government and local and provincial authorities on restoring infrastructure. The U.S. is now funding projects to rebuild a dilapidated water distribution system in the city of Al Batha, and to help return 15,000 acres of agricultural lands in Iraq's fertile crescent to production.

"In my assessment we are making a very big difference,'' Kulzer said. He spoke to reporters by telephone from Camp Adder, which is located outside An Nasariyah, the capital of Dhi Qar province in south central Iraq.


Kulzer noted that the new water treatment plants are providing safe drinking water to nearly 3,000 people in rural areas of the Euphrates River Valley. Water-borne diseases are a leading cause for a high infant mortality rate in the country, he said.

The challenges in rebuilding the country's infrastructure are many. "You start one project and it leads to two, three others,'' he said.

As workers built the water treatment plants, they found it necessary to rebuild 25 kilometers of roadway to provide access to them. The roads make it possible for water trucks to haul the potable water to the small, rural villages where it is needed.

Jobs are badly needed in the country as well. Kulzer said there is a 60 percent unemployment rate. Those Iraqis fortunate to have work -- such as police officers and soldiers -- earn about $10 a day, he said.

Kulzer said the current project to restore 15,000 acres of agricultural lands to production is aimed at helping rebuild the economy. If the lands are returned to production, they will produce two harvests annually of wheat and other grains. Each harvest could represent $4 million in revenues to the region, he noted.

The lands have been lost to production for 10 to 15 years as the irrigation network fell into disrepair. The Iraq-Iran war in the 1980s and U.S.-led trade sanctions against Iraq meant there were limited resources available for the system in this productive area where the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys meet.

Kulzer said "there is almost an unlimited amount of land'' that was formerly irrigated and could again be returned to production.

He said the restoration efforts are popular with the population. The efforts to rebuild the infrastructure have not been hindered by insurgent actions, he told reporters.


While building infrastructure to meet basic needs and improve the economy are critical, the major described one smaller project that he indicated could be just as important to winning the local population's support. He noted that the troops helped rebuild a fountain and add a swing set and slide in a small park in the community of Al Batha.

In response to reporters' questions, Kulzer described troop morale as good, but noted that the working conditions in Iraq are harsh. This is the peak of the summer heat, and daytime temperatures in the 115- to 120-degree range are common. Troops wear heavy, full-body armor and work as long as seven hours in the heat, and consume large quantities of water in the process, he said.

The Minnesota troops are marking their fifth month of a 12-month deployment in Iraq. Kulzer said that the novelty that came with being in such a different environment has now worn off.

There are approximately 2,600 Minnesota National Guard soldiers serving with the 1st of the 34th Brigade Combat Team. The troops are assigned to battalions headquartered in New Ulm, Stillwater, and Camp Ripley.

Sgt. Kyle R. Miller, 19, of Willmar, was serving with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division when he died of injuries suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated on June 29 in Iraq.

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